Duolun, a county of Inner Mongolia, China, is known for its dry, humid continental climate with bitterly cold and very dry winters. Its southeastern part has the Gobi Desert, which has always been dry. The region is prone to windstorms and desertification; it is therefore very uninhabitable.
China is now coming up with a plan to green the desert by planting billions of trees.
China’s Duolun desert strategy
In the last half-century, the number of people in Inner Mongolia has relatively increased, while the number of livestock has increased sixfold. The decades of over-farming and overgrazing turned vast areas of arable lands into pure desert. People would cut down so many trees for firewood, so many farms and factories sucked up ground water, and animals were munching grass.
Lacking roots to anchor it and moisture to weigh it down, fertile topsoil blows away and leaving only sand and pebbles behind.
China’s solution is to build a ‘Green Great Wall.’
It was the year 2000 when the then-Premier Zhu Rongji visited Duolun and observed an appalling situation. He then declared, “It is imperative to build green barriers,” and the result was millions of pines were planted over a total of nearly 200,000 acres, with more going in every spring.
Tree planting has been promoted as a righteous cause by the Chinese government, due to which after more than a decade of Green Great Wall, the typical landscape in Duolun today is filled with shrubs and trees. Thousands of acres of desert have been stabilised.
According to a report by Mother Jones, 31% of Duolun is now forested. Researchers estimate that desertification costs the Chinese economy billions of dollars per year. Although, the government of China intends to plant 88 million acres of forests in a belt nearly 3,000 miles long and up to 900 miles wide in places by 2050.
The Green Great Wall?
The Green Great Wall was launched in 1978, and It was the same year when Beijing began opening up the economy. The afforestation efforts have also steadily increased since then. Rather than relying on revolutionary fervour, the government now harnesses capitalism to grow trees and villagers are also paid to plant seedlings. In some places, the government leases private land for afforestation. Entrepreneurs cultivate and sell saplings and harvest mature trees for lumber. All of this has reportedly reduced the poverty level in many areas.
Between 2009 and 2014, the frequency of sandstorms nationwide has decreased by 20% in Duolun. The State Forestry Administration claims that the Green Great Wall, along with some additional planting programs it supervises, has begun to reverse the deserts’ overall expansion.
Still, a long way to go
Researchers’ biggest worry is that the trees are diminishing subterranean aquifers, so eventually, nothing will flourish. Sun Qingwei, who is a former Chinese Academy of Sciences Desert researcher told Mother Jones, “For the past 1,000 years, only shrubs and grass have grown in those areas. Why would they think planting trees would be successful?”
He further added that it is indeed not sustainable. Investing money in trees that are not supposed to be there is kind of crazy.
In any case, the Green Great Wall’s long-term ecological effects may take decades to reveal themselves. Local data on the environmental and socioeconomic changes, the project has already wrought is “often not available or unreliable,” explains a 2014 study by American and Chinese scientists.
Another study, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing Normal University, notes “there is surprisingly little unassailable evidence” to support claims that “the afforestation has successfully combated desertification and controlled dust storms.”
The Logical Indian community appreciates the move of planting trees in a desert and save the world from desertification. Possibly, 100 years from now, this step will offset the deforestation in other parts of the world respectively.